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Lord Gilbert: My Lords, there is nothing of which I am aware that includes such a prohibition.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House more about consultation with the United States about loose nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union, about which there is a great deal of active concern in the US? Further, can he say whether her Majesty's Government are also involved in the various programmes to ensure that nuclear materials which are still not fully guarded in the former Soviet Union are now being safely removed and disposed of?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I shall respond as best I can to the noble Lord's question. Of course, this is a matter of concern for Her Majesty's Government, as, indeed, it is for any other government who might be affected by a nuclear accident or by dispersal of weapons into insecure hands on the part of malevolent people in the Soviet Union. As far as I am aware, Her Majesty's Government are not contributing any funds to those programmes but are actively engaged in discussions about them.

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the possession of a nuclear capability was probably a powerful deterrent to Iraq making use of chemical or biological weapons during the conflict in the Gulf with horrendous casualties on our side?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, it is not for me to seek to interpret the thought processes of Saddam Hussein.

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However, I can note, as no doubt the noble and gallant Lord has done, that he was not reluctant to use chemical weapons against allies who did not possess nuclear weapons, nor against his own people, whereas he was very reluctant to use any capability that he may have had in that respect in the recent Gulf conflict.

House of Lords Reform

2.48 p.m.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the announcement by the Baroness Hayman on 25th March in the Statement on the Greater London Authority that "there is no substitute for democracy" (HL Deb, col. 1279) will also be applied to any proposed reform of the House of Lords.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): My Lords, perhaps I may begin by congratulating the noble Viscount. To succeed in linking my noble friend's answer about a London authority with the Government's proposals on reform of the House of Lords is lateral thinking of a very high order. If I may say so, the noble Viscount is obviously extremely skilled at textual badinage. I am sure that he is also very good at crosswords. Turning to the Question, I assure the House that, as set out in our manifesto, the removal of the rights of hereditary Peers to sit and vote will be the first stage in a process of reform to make the House of Lords more democratic and representative.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Richard, for those compliments. However, I am quite hopeless at crosswords. In the light of his comments and the fact that the reform of the House of Lords is a relevant subject at the moment--it has been discussed both inside and outside this Chamber--can he explain in what way politically appointed life Peers have more democratic legitimacy than others who arrive here by accident of birth?

Lord Richard: My Lords, it occurs to me that those of us who are life Peers in this House are here for what we are meant to have done and not for what our parents are meant to have done.

Lord Renton: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, although the democratically elected House of Commons should always have the last word, it is a valuable part of our constitution and in the interests of democracy that we should have the power to ask the Government and the House of Commons to think again, and that we are more likely to do so effectively if we have a degree of independence of party political influence? Therefore, if we were democratically elected we would become a mere microcosm of the other place and a rubber stamp.

Lord Richard: My Lords, I agree with the first part of the noble Lord's question. Of course the second

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Chamber has, and must continue to have, the right to ask the elected House of Commons to think again. However, I do not share the connection that the noble Lord makes between the hereditary peerage and independence of political party. I am sorry to inform the noble Lord that according to the figures that is just not true. Some 360--I believe I have the figure correct--hereditary Peers take the Conservative Whip. On the whole, when they enter the Lobbies they tend to do what the Conservative Whips are pleased to see them do; namely, vote with the Opposition. As regards the Cross-Benchers, the Labour Party has consistently said that it is in favour of retaining an independent element in a reformed House of Lords.

The Earl of Halsbury: My Lords, has the noble Lord the Leader of the House read the article in this morning's edition of The Times to the effect that the appointed working Peers do not turn up to do any work?

Lord Richard: My Lords, I read the article in The Times this morning. I should be interested to see an analysis of how often the hereditary Peers turn up to work. I suspect that the level of absenteeism among those who are here by accident of birth rather than by appointment is rather larger than it is in the case of the life Peers.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, may we take it from what the noble Lord the Leader of the House so clearly said that the Government's mind is now made up on how to proceed and we may take it for granted that a Bill will be included in the Queen's Speech? I hope the noble Lord will not say that it is not the habit of governments to declare their intention in advance of the Queen's Speech. That is simply not the case. The present Home Secretary and previous ones have often said well in advance what the Queen's Speech was likely to contain.

Lord Richard: My Lords, it is not the habit of governments to reveal what will be in the next Queen's Speech. Having said that, the noble Lord is as capable as I of doing the political arithmetic.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, does the noble Lord the Leader of the House not think that the time has come to have a better informed debate on this subject? Does he not feel that the Government should now publish an options paper to consider various alternatives for a reformed and--in the words of his party's manifesto--more democratic House?

Lord Richard: My Lords, I do not think it is appropriate to publish an options paper. My party's policy was clearly set out in its manifesto, upon which it was elected with an overwhelming majority.

Earl Russell: My Lords, is the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal aware that what he said about a first stage in effect repeats the preamble to the Parliament Act

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of 1911? We are still waiting for a second stage. Can the noble Lord give us any reason to think that we shall have reached the second stage before the year 2011?

Lord Richard: My Lords, someone once said that a week in politics is a long time. Eighty years in politics is almost infinity. As I believe I said previously, I regard a Bill to remove the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote as unfinished business from 1910.

Guardsmen Fisher and Wright: Judicial Review

2.54 p.m.

Lord Burnham asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the decision of the court in the judicial review on 25th March of the cases of Guardsmen Fisher and Wright.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs): My Lords, although the hearing of the judicial review concluded on 26th March the judge, Mr. Justice Coghlin, reserved judgment.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, I am disappointed by the noble Lord's Answer because we had a fairly firm assurance that the judgment would be given before Easter, and, if not, certainly in the week after Easter. However, as that has not happened can we have an absolute assurance, as we have been promised in the past--some of us are unhappy about that--that whatever decision is reached, either by the judge or by the Secretary of State, the decision about the release of these men will in no way be governed by political considerations?

Lord Dubs: My Lords, on the first point, the Government cannot control a decision of the judiciary, nor should we do so. We shall have to await the judge's views. On the second point, I give the noble Lord that assurance.

Earl Alexander of Tunis: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that it is a disgrace that these serving soldiers have languished in prison for doing what they considered to be their duty?

Lord Dubs: My Lords, the Government are not able to agree with that proposition. Those two soldiers were sentenced through a due process of law in the courts. We have to say that justice was done in that case.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, will the noble Lord confirm that the release of these guardsmen--I take his point as regards his previous answer--will not be delayed by arrangements for the release of prisoners under the peace process? I seek a categoric assurance.


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